||Chapter 30||

Crawford's face was mostly hidden by his Wallstreet Journal as he scanned the pages idly, lifting his little styrofoam cup for a careful sip of his coffee. "Why can't you sense him?" he murmured in English to prevent being overheard and understood by the other customers.
Schuldich watched him, exhaling smoke towards the ceiling. He was doing that more often now, he noted in the back of his mind. He was going through over a pack a day now. Crawford didn't bother to complain or even mention it. He dealt with it by injecting liquid caffeine in his system. He let Schuldich deal with the stress his own way. Schuldich made a face as he watched the older man take another small sip. Black. Who the hell drank straight black coffee? Schuldich's eyes wandered towards the little paper tubes of sugar. He wondered how Crawford would react if upon returning from a trip to the loo he took a sip only to discover a certain someone had dumped about half a cup of sugar into his precious sludge.
Unfavorably, Schuldich decided, flicking his ash into the little glass ashtray.
The telepath gave a shrug, taking a long drag and crushing the butt of his cigarette into the tray. He blew his smoke sideways- he knew better than to blow it directly at his teammate unless he wanted a confrontation -and leaned forward, propping his elbows on the table. "How the fuck should I know?" he grumbled, glancing sideways at the huddled figure in the booth by a window. The coffee shop wasn't very busy; it was after dinner time. Most of the customers were businessmen in rumpled suits, winding down after a hard day at work. Their target stood out like a sore thumb. Not that Schuldich himself didn't, with his flaming sun-kissed hair. He'd tied most of it up in a green and yellow patterned scarf he'd found in the shop to be a little less conspicuous... not that it mattered. The slimy little shit's nose had been buried in a battered bible the entire time. The waitress kept a healthy distance from him. Schuldich wondered if the man stank, and was glad he was sitting far enough away to not know. He certainly looked like he hadn't seen the inside of a shower stall for several days.
Schuldich turned his eyes back on his partner, his face carefully expressionless. Crawford's gaze had wandered towards their target, and Schuldich took the brief opportunity to scrutinize the man before him.
Why was he bothering with this? he asked himself wearily. After all the shit Crawford had pulled, he'd learned to deal with the man's annoying habits and his way of getting things done, but... That was because he'd been unaware of just what the man was capable of.
While he'd watched time and time again as Crawford calmly tore the lives of targets apart thread by thread, destroying everything dear or important to them, it had never occured to him that Crawford could stoop so low as to do the same to one of his own teammates. Scratch that. Deep down he'd suspected Crawford capable of such callous cruelty, even for his partners. He had just refused to acknowledge it. Looking back, he could kick himself in the head for not heeding his instincts.
He reached abruptly for his cigarettes to banish the beginning of an unwanted memory. His mother's last echoing screams had resounded in his head for months, ever since that fucking shrimp Tsukiyono had returned his memories. He was not in the mood to deal with it now.
He thrust a cigarette in between his lips and carefully dragged his self control and cold shell around himself again like a comforting cloak.
No matter how painful, no matter how unfair, what was done was done. He had to live in the present now. He met Crawford's calm dark eyes across the table, making sure not to let anything show on his face.
Revenge is a dish best served cold, Brad Crawford, he whispered internally.
"You might not want to be wearing that scarf when we have Ran back," Crawford pointed out, looking at Schuldich with an arched brow. "I somehow doubt he would react well."
Schuldich smirked. "What, it's his?" He reached up to tug at it. "Definitely wearing it, then. I'll bet he thinks I have lice."
Crawford didn't answer for a few moments, and when he did, he changed the subject. "Did you contact Himeno?"
"Yeah, right after you had your little seizure in the middle of the crosswalk," Schuldich drawled, rolling his eyes. "You're embarrassing to be around when you pull shit like that, Rainman."
Crawford did not look amused. He always lost his bearings when the visions took hold of him. Schuldich assumed it was because they were so vivid to him-- not to mention they almost always popped up out of the blue, thrusting the future into the present so that he forgot where he was and what was real and what wasn't.
That was guesswork, of course. Crawford had never bothered to explain his faulty Gift to any of his teammates.
Schuldich felt his lips curve in a little smirk he was unable to kill. "I can't decide if that girl is plucky or just very fucking stupid."
"A mix of both, I think," Crawford murmured, removing his glasses to polish them on his handkerchief. "A combination that could help her or harm her depending on how much trouble she can get herself into." He settled his glasses carefully back on the bridge of his nose.
Schuldich frowned, then realized belatedly he hadn't lit his cigarette. He reached for his lighter, looking back towards their target once more. Still reading his stupid book. Even from here Schuldich could tell by the shine to his matted hair that it hadn't been washed recently. He was about to make a wisecrack about the fanatic when Crawford's quiet voice interrupted his disgusted thoughts.
"She is going to die."
Schuldich forgot about the bible thumper, turning a sharp gaze on his leader. His lighter hovered before his unlit cigarette, forgotten. "What?"
Crawford gazed at him calmly, studying his face. "She is going to die," he repeated quietly, "if she gets in the middle of this. Hwang has a grudge against her now, and you know he never drops his grudges. He won't rest until she's dead."
Schuldich's grip tightened on the lighter until the plastic creaked in his hand. His eyes narrowed. "Was that part of your earlier vision that you somehow forgot to mention?" he asked in a low, angry voice.
Crawford didn't answer the question. He lifted a finger, pointing it at Schuldich, pinning him with an intense stare. "There's one window, one chance, at her making it out of this alive. You will have exactly until the three fifteen."
Schuldich stared blankly at him. "The three fifteen? Don't you mean until three fifteen? What are you talking about? What is that supposed to mean? Why me?"
Crawford finally lowered his eyes, lifting his cup for a sip of his disgusting black coffee. "If Himeno does her job," he said confidently, "you won't have to worry about it." And he refused to say anything else about it.

Across the cafe, Curtis Riddle lowered his bible a few inches to glare at the two distracted foreigners.


Aya discovered after getting only a block away from the hospital that a cracked rib was nothing to be taken lightly.
Even with the help of crutches, every step sent harsh jabs of pain throughout her entire torso, until finally even breathing hurt. By the time she reached the train station, she was struggling not to cry.
She hesitated upon boarding the train, afraid to stand but even more afraid to sit down. Lying down in the hospital bed- which suddenly sounded like heaven -hadn't hurt very badly, but sitting or walking around put a strain on it. A middle aged woman saw her crutches and relieved her seat, offering to help her sit down. Forcing a tired smile, Aya accepted the seat, easing herself down carefully, wincing and shifting until she found a position that didn't make her want to weep. The lurch of the train taking off made her gasp, and her vision swam for a moment when she bumped against the dozing elderly man beside her. She had to bite back a cry of agony.
Maybe this hadn't been such a good idea.
She shook her head, gritting her teeth stubbornly. Maybe it wasn't the best idea in the world, but what other choice did she have? She refused to be stuffed in a hospital room with a bodyguard while her brothers went off to fight. Went off to die.
Before they did that, she wanted to see them one last time.
"Hey, ojousan, why the tears?"
She looked up, blinking hard to clear her blurry vision. Three high school boys had shifted close to her and were hanging onto the rail over her seat, leaning in and grinning at her. One of them had spiky hair, dyed a horrible green shade. Another looked semi-normal, except for his hard eyes, and the third was pierced in his nose and multiple times in his ears. All their shirts were untucked, the ties loose. She stared up at them in silence. Punks. Finally she turned her head away dismissively. Another time she might have been just a tiny bit flattered at their attentions, if they hadn't looked so creepy and if she hadn't had more important things on her mind.
"Hey, cutie, answer me when I'm talking to you," the pierced one commanded. The one with green hair snickered, wiping at his nose with scarred knuckles. The speaker reached out to tug on one of her braids. She jerked her head away, still refusing to look at them. A thread of nervousness worked its way through her determination and pain.
The Japanese were not known for their confrontational skills. Those nearby glanced towards the disturbance, then quickly looked away, unwilling to intervene and bring attention to themselves. Aya couldn't keep back a flash of disappointed resentment.
These were the people her brothers were fighting to save. People that wouldn't even speak up to stop a pack of simple bullies. Why should they risk dying for people like that? Anger bubbled up in her, giving her the courage to turn her head and offer the three boys the blistering glare she shared with her brother. The pierced guy actually took a step back, then scowled when his friends laughed at him.
"Look at that, Taka's afraid of a little girl," the green-haired one crowed.
"Watch out, Taka, she might bite," the other one jeered.
"Hey, bitch, what's with that shitty look?" Taka growled irritably, leaning over her threateningly. His lips peeled back in a lecherous grin. "Don't you want to have some fun with us?"
Aya stared up at him in silence, trying to decide if she should offer a retort or simply keep her mouth shut. The old man beside her shifted, and she looked over at him in surprise when he didn't get up and leave upon seeing the three delinquits.
"What are you three brats doing?" he demanded in a wheezy voice, giving the boys a stern look. "Can't you leave a young woman alone and let an old man get his rest? Young people these days.... Go on, be off with you!"
Aya stared at him.
"What was that, jiji?" Taka demanded angrily.
His hard-eyed companion snickered and pulled on his arm. "Never mind the old fart. C'mon." The three of them moved down to the next car, jeering over their shoulders.
The old man peered at Aya from under bushy eyebrows, hands clasping the top of his cane where it rested between his legs. "Young men these days have no respect," he declared huffily.
Aya felt her mouth widen in a smile of gratitude. "Arigato," she said quietly.
The man sniffed in dismissal and shifted into a more comfortable position, drifting off to sleep again. Aya was still smiling when she got off at her stop.
She got out of the way of the small crowd exiting and entering the train and paused to adjust her crutches. As she headed for the escalator, she caught a familiar shade of green out of the corner of her eye. She flicked a quick glance over her shoulder as she stepped onto the moving staircase. Her three harassers had gotten off with her, and were following her, grinning nastily.


"Raphael-san, it's for you. It's Ken-kun."
The half-blood looked over his shoulder from where he was lounging by the open back door, ever on the lookout for trouble as sunset neared. He shouldered his shotgun and held out his hand.
Omi handed over the phone. As the assassin accepted it and began speaking into the receiver, Omi returned to the table, where his lover was carefully inspecting the small cast on his arm.
The injury he'd received when Hwang had attacked the flower shop was healing at an incredible speed; probably thanks in part to the Jackal setting the bone back in place so quickly after the incident. The drugs were helping, too.
Omi seated himself, lifting the small white bottle and studying its blank shape. There was no label on it, but he'd seen the tiny blue pills inside. There were only a couple left. They'd originally been Farfarello's, given to him by Rosenkreuz. As a Vampire- and as one who didn't feel pain -Farfarello hadn't thought much of the horrendous injuries he received from others or at his own hands while he'd been with Schwarz. The drugs had been a boost to help the healing process, a valuable commodity that could do wonders in the civilian world for patients. Now that Farfarello had his Vampire healing abilities back, he had no need of the pills. He'd taken a couple for emergencies- for Ken -but had left the rest with Crawford to use on his team if the need arose. Nagi had taken a couple since the attack on the shop, and his arm was healing with incredible speed. It was now just a minor fracture, and his cast was light and temporary. Truly a miracle drug.
..If not for the side effects.
Omi set the plastic bottle aside, trying not to dwell on his nervousness. They had discovered nearly six months ago that Farfarello's insanity was in part due to the staggering amount of drugs and meds the doctors at Rosenkreuz had fed the Irishman to supress his bloodright and keep him alive. These pills had been a part of that. The warnings, before someone had ripped them off, had once warned about side effects such as nausea, vomitting blood, and temporary unconsciousness that could evoke night terrors.
Crawford had been the one to warn the both of them about the consequences of using the powerful drug, but Nagi had taken them anyway. He refused to go into battle with a useless arm. Omi had relaxed when nothing happened for several days.
Two days ago Nagi had taken his second pill.
Omi had stayed up with him most of the previous night holding Nagi's shoulders as he vomitted bile and blood into the toilet, terrified to go to sleep because of the constant nightmares.
Omi had begged him not to take anymore, horrified and frightened by the reaction his lover had to the medication.
"Two was all I needed anyway," Nagi had said with a weak smile, fingers gripping the sides of the toilet so hard his hands were shaking.
Omi pushed the memory of last night from his mind, plucking up the marker he'd abandoned for the phone. Nagi held his arm out with an indulgent smile, and Omi tried to ignore how pale his face was. Neither of them had gotten much sleep.
Omi offered an encouraging smile and doodled on the cast idly, listening with half an ear to Raphael. The man's voice was low, and he could only pick up every other word. He gave up trying to follow the one-sided conversation, impishly drawing a large heart on the cast right over Nagi's wrist. Nagi leaned over to read what he was writing inside the heart.
"Property... of... Tsukiyo- hey!" He tried to pull his hand back, a rare blush rising to his cheeks.
Omi grinned, holding on carefully but firmly as he quickly finished writing his claim. "Well it's true, isn't it?"
Nagi offered a weak scowl, still flushed. At least it brought color to his cheeks, Omi thought with a little relief.
They both looked up as Raphael hung up the phone and turned towards them. He set the phone on the counter, flipping his long dark braid over his shoulder as he looked at them both solemnly. "Farfarello is briefing his people on what they're expected to do. He and Hidaka will be over here in about an hour so we can all hash out the final plan. Hidaka wants us to get everyone here." He glanced outside. "Sunset is only a few hours away, so make it quick."
Omi capped the marker and rose to his feet. "I'll call Crawford's cell phone," he offered. The clairvoiyant had told them not to use Schuldich's mental link to talk about their plans; there was no telling if Souma would be eavesdropping. "Then you can call the rest of your team, Raphael-san." The half-blood nodded, eyes roaming the streets outside.
Omi heard a little clatter and glanced over his shoulder as he dialed Crawford's number. Nagi was still sitting at the table, staring at the marker rolling away from him. He looked a little paler than before. "Nagi?"
The boy looked up quickly and cleared his throat. "I'll go tell the Jackal," he said quietly, and retreated from the room.
Omi watched him go, puzzled, glancing towards the marker on the table. Just then Crawford picked up on his side, interrupting his confused thoughts. "Hai." (1)
"It's Bombay," Omi said, turning away from the table. Maybe Nagi was just feeling the effects of the drug again. He'd have to check on him as soon as he was through with his call. "We just got a call from Siberian. He wants us all to meet here in an hour."
"Wakatta. We'll be there in ten minutes. Any word from Himeno?"
Omi frowned. "Himeno? No, why? Isn't she watching Aya-chan?"
"Supposedly," Crawford said dryly. There was a pause, and Omi thought he heard Schuldich utter a curse in the background. "Make that twenty minutes," Crawford corrected himself, sounding distracted. "Something's just come up." Omi blinked, staring at the buzzing phone in his hand. He looked towards Raphael. "Ne... did you get a call from Himeno-san earlier?"
The half-blood shook his head, eyes still on the encrouching evening. "No. Why?"
"No reason," Omi murmured, shaking his head. 'Supposedly'? What was that supposed to mean? Pushing aside thoughts of the female assassin, he hurried off in search of his lover.


Aya cursed under her breath as she stumbled once more. The crutches were proving to be more hindrance than help, especially on the crowded sidewalk. They were only slowing her down. She glanced over her shoulder, her heart kicking up a notch.
They were still following her.
She quickly turned her face forward again, hobbling towards the nearest crosswalk. With her thumb she hastily twisted the ring on her finger so that the stone was facing inwards. For the love of God, this was not what she needed right now. If she was brought down by a pack of high school delinquits in the middle of a war against Vampires and Rosenkreuz, she was going to be pissed.
She hissed air out between her teeth in irritation and anxiety as the crosswalk light turned red just as she reached it. She hesitated, glancing around. The three boys were gaining on her, taking their sweet time. They were starting to shout out rude offers and expletives.
She couldn't risk standing here and letting them catch up to her. Turning away from the street, she began heading down the sidewalk again. She glanced up at a street sign, and felt a twinge of hope. She knew this street. She was only a few blocks away from the flower shop. She looked over her shoulder at her pursuers, considering her options. The flowershop was not on the main street; there wouldn't be enough people on the sidewalks to keep the boys from closing in.
She took a deep breath and tossed one of her crutches into a nearby alley. Tucking the other one under her arm and steeling herself in preparation for the pain, she took off running.
With a howl of laughter, the three boys sped after her.
Pain ripped up and down her ribs, making breathing agony, and she whimpered at the pain as she forced herself to run, dodging pedestrians, still crarrying her crutch. She might have to use it as a weapon.
But even as she ran, she knew she couldn't keep up this pace for long. The pain was only getting worse, and- she threw a hasty look back -they were much faster than she was. Her coma had considerably weakened her muscles, and even after the months of physical therapy, she had never been able to run very long or fast afterwards. She almost didn't turn down the right street, her injury flaring in blinding pain when she had to twist her body to take the turn so abruptly. She stumbled once, twice- and managed to catch her balance, racing down the sidewalk.
Two blocks. Only two more blocks...
She could hear their feet slapping the concrete behind her, hear their pants and their laughter. They were right behind her.
She looked around desperately for somewhere to run to. There was a conbeni just up the street, and she forced herself to move faster, her vision swimming with the pain.
A hand snagged her whipping braids and yanked her backwards. She screamed before she could stop herself, swinging back wildly with the crutch.
One of them seized the crutch and wrenched it away so brutally it hurt her wrist.
They had surrounded her in a flash, breathing hard and laughing at her. Her ribs aflame with agony, she kept one hand to her aching scalp as the boy who had her jerked on her braid, feeling desperately in her pockets with her other hand. A knife, a knife... she always carried a knife. Where the hell was her knife??
She realized suddenly that she didn't have it on her this time. The nurses must have confiscated it. And Crawford had her bugnuk in his car.
It was the hard-eyed one who had ahold of her. The one with green hair was laughing at her, pressing close to her and telling her exactly what he was going to do to her. The pierced one- Taka -reached out and squeezed one of her breasts painfully in his big hand. Aya squealed, horrified. They laughed.
Through the pain and the humiliation, Aya felt a flash of disbelief and relief. They weren't going to kill her. They were just ordinary high school boys. Being in the shadow of assassins and Vampires day after day had made her paranoid. She stopped struggling for a few moments and fought to catch her breath.
Then the rest of her mind caught up to their words and touches. They weren't going to kill her.
They were going to rape her.
Renewed fear, mixed with revulsion and anger, rushed up like bile. When Taka squeezed again, she drew her hand back and slapped him as hard as she could.
Her knife throwing had given her arm enough strength and speed to make the blow a painful one. Taka's head snapped to the side, and he fell a step back. Aya felt a momentary pang of satisfaction before the one holding her yanked painfully on her hair again, forcing her head back. He seized her elbow and pinned her arm beind her back.
"Holy shit, Taka," the green-haired one said, his voice strained with repressed laughter. "You're bleeding!" He gave a short bark of a laugh.
Taka reached up and carefully touched his cheek. He looked at the tiny bit of blood smeared on his fingertips before reaching out abruptly and wrenching her arm from his partner's grip, twisting her wrist to stare at her palm. He stared at the ring she'd twisted around, and at the spot of blood on it.
The glare he turned on her made her blood run cold. "Think you're pretty fucking clever, don't you, bitch?" he snarled, pushing his face close to hers. She tried to swallow and couldn't with her head pulled back so far. "Don't you worry, I'll make it up to you. Except you're going to be bleeding a whole lot more than this." He held his fingers up to show her the slight stain of blood on them.
He took a step back, sneering and jerking his thumb towards an alley a few feet away. "Get her in there."
Aya screamed in fear and fury as she was dragged into the alley, struggling despite the pain in her ribs.
She was shoved against a wall, and before she could push away or even get her breath back properly, Taka was pressed up against her, holding her wrists to the sides in his strong grip. She screamed again at the pressure against her injury.
"Jesus, Taka, shut her up," the hard-eyed one snapped, darting wary glances towards the alley's opening. "She's going to bring the cops."
"Gimmie your tie, Seiji," Taka snapped. The green-haired one quickly undid his tie and jerked it from around his neck. Wadding it up into a ball, he reached past Taka and grabbed her chin, trying to force the gag in her mouth. She clamped her lips shut and tried to twist her head away, tears smarting her eyes. Taka switched both her thin wrists to one grip. Her skin crawled when Taka lowered his free hand and shoved it up the front of her skirt, fumbling with her underwear. She had to fight not to scream again, still clenching her teeth as Seiji tried to push the gag into her mouth.
Frantic denials and pleas ran through her mind as Taka's heavy breathing fell on her neck, making her stomach turn. His hand was doing things that made her want to shriek in horror. No no no no please don't do this, somebody please help me Ran help me
Taka's fingers began to twist and shove roughly, trying to enter her, and she couldn't hold back a scream. Seiji shoved the tie in her open mouth so quickly and forcefully she almost gagged on it. The third boy was ignoring the alley entrance, watching with a sick little smile on his face.
Aya whimpered against the gag, feeling hot tears streak down her cheeks. No one was going to help her, she thought with a feeling of dread and harsh acceptance. Even if someone passed the alley and happened to see, what were the chances of someone challenging three bullies for the sake of a stranger?
A shadow fell in the narrow alleyway entrance, an amused voice interrupting the muttering and panting of the three boys. "Ohh? Was ist das?"
Aya opened her eyes and managed to twist her head just enough to stare in horror at the figure blocking the failing sunlight.
The girl was standing with her hips cocked, arms crossed as she watched with an interested expression on her face. The three boys gaped at her, caught off guard. She arched her brows at them, flicking her fingers towards Aya. "I would not do that if I were you," she advised. "Someone else has dibs on this one's life."
Aya stared incredulously. Was Jenell going to help her? No way.
But the girl was already stepping into the alley, her lips turned up in a creepy smile as Seiji turned towards her with a cocky grin. "What's up, baby? Come to join the party..?"
Jenell sneered up at him, reaching up and placing a hand against his chest. "You're not my type," she said primly.
Lightening erupted in the narrow alley.

(1) I'm sorry, but imagining Crawford answering the phone with "moshi moshi" makes me snicker. ^^;;
Translations: "Was ist das?"= what is this?

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Ch. 26
Ch. 27
Ch. 28
Ch. 29
Ch. 31